The best books about college admissions mania

Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman Author Of Girls with Bright Futures
By Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman

Who are we?

When each of our older boys were in the midst of the college admissions process, our husbands suffered life-threatening health crises. It was such a bizarre coincidence that we both experienced intense brushes with mortality during this time of high anxiety. The juxtaposition between health and college admissions gave us a unique perspective and led us to explore the impacts of college admissions anxiety on families, friendships, students, and school communities. We had entirely plotted Girls With Bright Futures and were nearly through the first draft when the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal broke in March 2019. We felt like the headlines had been ripped from our manuscript!


We wrote...

Girls with Bright Futures

By Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman,

Book cover of Girls with Bright Futures

What is our book about?

Girls with Bright Futures is the story of three high school mothers whose daughters are locked in competition for a single admissions spot at Stanford. With the application deadline approaching, one of the girls is nearly killed in a hit-and-run accident. As the school community descends into a spiral of panic and accusations, three women will have to decide what lines they’re willing to cross to secure their daughters’ futures...and keep buried the secrets that threaten to destroy far more than just college dreams.

The books we picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

By William Deresiewicz,

Book cover of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

Why this book?

When we set out on our writing journey to understand the impacts of college admissions anxiety on families, friendships, students, and school communities, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, by William Deresiewicz, was one of the most insightful books we read. Deresiewicz does an outstanding job of tracing the history of the college admissions industrial complex, including the fascinating story behind the US News & World Report rankings, as well as the impact of airline deregulation and the break-up of Ma Bell on college admissions. If you’re trying to make sense of college admissions mania, this book is a great starting point.


Guilty Admissions: The Bribes, Favors, and Phonies Behind the College Cheating Scandal

By Nicole Laporte,

Book cover of Guilty Admissions: The Bribes, Favors, and Phonies Behind the College Cheating Scandal

Why this book?

This well-researched non-fiction book by powerhouse investigative reporter Nicole LaPorte of Fast Company provides a fascinating look at some of the behind-the-scenes, real-world parenting dynamics that set the stage for Operation Varsity Blues. In addition to all the juicy details LaPorte reveals about Los Angeles’ elite private school ecosystem, we particularly love the way she traces the origins of college admissions mania all the way back to kindergarten. If you’ve ever wondered how community group-think can lead to lawlessness and a total abandonment of ethics and values, Guilty Admissions takes readers on a tantalizing journey into the competitive-parenting abyss, LA-style.


Small Admissions

By Amy Poeppel,

Book cover of Small Admissions

Why this book?

We read several popular novels that explore competitive school environments. One of the best in this sub-genre is Small Admissions, by Amy Poeppel, which provides a fictional glimpse into the cut-throat world of Manhattan prep school admissions and ultra-competitive parents. Poeppel crafts a fun, wicked read with sharp dialogue. We could easily imagine what would happen when the children in Small Admissions apply to college…their parents would fit in well with the characters in our book.


The Gifted School

By Bruce Holsinger,

Book cover of The Gifted School

Why this book?

Holsinger’s debut novel was published in 2019, only a few months after the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal burst into public view, capturing the attention of a horrified nation. While The Gifted School tells the story of four friends in Colorado as their children are applying (and the parents jockeying) for admission to a middle school for gifted and talented students, the parenting mania themes are cut from the same cloth. With humor and wisdom, Holsinger deftly handles the intricacies and dynamics within and across each of the four families. The twists and turns are surprising, the characters extremely well-drawn, and readers are guaranteed to cringe as the parents in the story make one bad decision after another, suffering under—and ultimately succumbing to—the weight of their anxieties. Delicious fun!


Admission

By Julie Buxbaum,

Book cover of Admission

Why this book?

This is an engrossing novel with big ripped-from-the-headlines vibes. Told from the point of view of high school senior Chloe Berringer, whose Lori Loughlin-like actress mother becomes ensnared in a college admissions scandal, Buxbaum’s story expertly imagines the impact of such a scandal might have on a young college applicant and her family. Using a Now/Then format, Buxbaum’s juicy and compelling story provides a many-layered and fascinating peek under the veil of one family’s secrets and lies in the name of Operation-Varsity-Blues-style ambition. And although Admission was originally classified as a Young Adult novel, we feel confident recommending it to adults as well. In fact, it would make for an excellent mother-daughter “buddy read!”


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New York State, teenagers, and corruption?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New York State, teenagers, and corruption.

New York State Explore 384 books about New York State
Teenagers Explore 59 books about teenagers
Corruption Explore 30 books about corruption

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The City Game: Triumph, Scandal, and a Legendary Basketball Team, Can't Get There from Here, and Like a Love Story if you like this list.